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Wendy Kranz discusses how her work as a pilot can help physicians succeed in their careers and lives.

“How has your intuition spoken to you in the past? How do you know it’s your intuition; how do you know something feels right? How does your compass work? What interferes with your compass so you know when to make some adjustments?”

  • Wendy Kranz, Master Certified Life Coach & Licensed Pilot

As physicians, we often opt to take on more work ourselves than to ask for help, which can lead to serious burnout and overall unhappiness. Today, DocWorking has a conversation with Master Certified Life Coach and Licensed Pilot Wendy Kranz, to discuss how you can take the steps to avoid burnout, regain control, and “pilot your own life.” Along with DocWorking Master Certified Coach and Cohost of the podcast Jill Farmer, Wendy Kranz offers listeners advice on how to prepare for unknown challenges that may occur in your life and work. For Wendy, that unknown challenge was being diagnosed with cancer. In the episode, Wendy talks about how she found her “maneuvering speed” to continue living the life she wanted after her diagnosis. By drawing similarities to how a pilot may take charge of their aircraft, Wendy talks to physicians about how to trust in your intuition to take charge of your life. In addition to your individual self, Wendy and Jill also discuss the importance of co-pilots, those in your life who are there to support you. Piloting your “aircraft” isn’t a standalone job, and DocWorking is here to help. 

Wendy Kranz has been a master certified life coach for more than a decade. She is also a licensed pilot, a lover of adventure and fun, and brilliant at helping overworked clients, like physicians, create a flight plan for their life that helps them move through the turbulence and land at a meaningful destination.

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Please enjoy the full transcript below

 

Wendy: How has your intuition spoken to you in the past? How do you know it’s your intuition? How do you know something feels right? How does your compass work? What interferes with your compass, so you know when to make some adjustments?

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Jill: Hi, everyone and welcome to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. I’m Jill Farmer, lead coach at DocWorking and one of the cohosts of your podcast. And I’m really excited about the conversation we’re going to have today. I think you’re going to learn a lot from it. We are going to be joined by Wendy Kranz. She’s a master-certified life coach and has been one for over a decade. She is also a licensed pilot, a lover of adventure and fun, and brilliant at helping overworked clients, just like physicians, create a flight plan for their life that helps them move through the turbulence and land at more meaningful destinations. Wendy, thank you so much for being with us.

Wendy: Of course, have fun, that’s my two worlds collide.

Jill: Yeah, I’m really glad that you were willing to come have this conversation, because you and I have had many, many deep conversations through the years, both as we navigate challenges and exciting things in our own lives, as well as supporting our coaching clients, and helping to lead and mentor through the years. Of course, you are a pilot. You do that for a living in addition to your coaching work. You really help your clients understand a lot of the similarities between your life as a pilot and what we can do as the pilots of our own lives. So, I want you to talk a little bit about what you shared recently in a piece of writing that you did about your own situation and how that led you to even a new or deeper awareness of getting back into the ability to be the lead pilot of your own life. 

Wendy: Yes. I just saw so many analogies or metaphors between life and flying, particularly, when I was working on my instrument reading, which means I can fly through weather and the clouds, and then pop out 200 feet above a runway and land and have to trust all of these instruments. And we now have fancy GPS units in our aircraft, and we can program everything, and we have autopilot. But we still have to be able to fly using the old tiny compass. And so, I have been thinking a lot about what the changes in technology have meant for flying, but also, for us figuring out what route, what path, what view we want to take, how fast we want to go, how slow we want to go. So, I’ve been using the compass as a metaphor for my intuition. 

The airplane already has a lot of great metaphors: thrust, lift, drag, and weight, and what’s creating drag in your life, how can we create more lift, there’re all those basic things. But what I’ve been focused on lately is the compass, is how do you know if your compass is working? What interferes with your compass working, and how can you right your compass, so you can make sure you’re going the way you want to.

Jill: Yeah, I love that. I think the metaphor really, the reason I was excited about having this conversation with our physician and healthcare professional listeners is, that from March 2020 until the current day, [chuckles] it’s improving in a lot of ways, but the world pandemic and the incredible impact it had individually and the disruption that it provided for so many in healthcare is like everybody has been flying in the clouds and not had the ability – and turbulence. So, it’s those two things combined as you’re getting shaken up and also, you can’t look out and have a visual line to where you need to be taken next or how to get to where you want to land because it’s all been cloudy. 

And so, I love the idea of thinking about what are the things that interfere with that compass that we need to have. Because we got to fly by our compass sometimes, because by looking out on the vista, we’re not able to see clearly what we need to do to land. You talk about mental interference, physical interference, and emotional interference. I love that. Let’s start with mental interference, that overanalyzing, which is something I can be the queen of.

Wendy: Oh, yeah, that’s what I’ve mastered. Yeah, just to underscore what you just said is that when you can’t see the horizon, and everything outside you is white, and you have no landmarks is when you really have to learn to trust your instruments and know when there’s an interference. The reason I chose the compass, the old tiny compass, which is two magnets and fluid, there are four inherent errors in it. I have to know how those errors affect my compass. They’re always pointing to the North and South. If I make a turn, they’re going to drag behind if I’m turning away from the North or if I’m turning towards the North, they’re going to accelerate. It’s like knowing what is interfering with your compass. If I set an iPhone next to a compass in an airplane, it just starts spinning. So, that could be a huge event in your life that just sends your compass completely spinning or it could be just these little, like you said, mental interference that’s keeping us from having a compass reading that we can trust. 

What I was talking about in that recent writing is just starting to become aware of what is causing interference for you, and what errors you might have in your compass, and how until you’ve righted your compass to not make any big life decisions. The ones that I mentioned was overanalyzing, ruminating on the past or the future, any mental struggle, I think that’s an error in my compass. I don’t think I can trust my brain because I can believe something wonderful about myself one minute and something horrible about myself two minutes later. So, this is not a reliable instrument. So, if my mental thoughts are really negative or intense, really highly activated, I know I can’t really trust my intuition or my compass.

Jill: Same thing with talking about physical interference, of being able to trust the internal guidance system that we all have, there’s also something that will interfere. And then emotional interference, which includes things like anxiety, fear, overwhelm. And so, we’ve talked before on the podcast about emotional dysregulation and again, it’s understandable that we would have that interference, especially when the turbulence that was also created through the disruption of the ways that everybody’s work was impacted often in healthcare, thanks to COVID, that created a fear response in a lot of folks. It’s hard to remember, even when you get through the turbulence, I have a lot of conversations with physicians where they’re in ‘the other shoe is going to drop’ mode all the time. And so, what do you say about turbulence and how we can pilot through that? 

Wendy: Well, and it’s invisible. We can’t see it. What I think is interesting about turbulence is, every airplane has a defined maneuvering speed. That is where there will be no possible structural damage when you’re going through turbulence. We have to memorize that number. It might be on our airspeed indicator, but you need to know what the maneuvering speed is for your aircraft if you encounter turbulence, to ensure that there will be no structural damage or failure. Thinking about what is my maneuvering speed, what will be helpful and supportive to me, so I make sure I don’t break anything. [chuckles] I don’t overstrain the fuselage, the aircraft that is me, thinking about and know before I fly with that maneuvering speed is because I might encounter some unexpected turbulence. So, for me, it is preventative medicine. I’m making sure I exercise, and I try to get some rest, and I meditate, and music and whatever it is, and vitamin D. 

That’s the places I will go to if things get really bumpy. So, I have preventative medicine and then “Okay, what am I going to do when things get really bad and I’m getting tousled around?” And now, there’s illusions involved, not only am I getting bumped around, but now, I no longer feel I know where North is, or South is, or even where I’m experiencing some illusions in my body and in my compass that make it even more difficult to navigate. It often involves slowing down. Usually, maneuvering speed is less than what we’re traveling at and it’s a very prescribed speed that will ensure your safety on the other side. So, thinking about that ahead of time.

Jill: It’s another way that gives us, a really clear-cut way for us to think about conditions that we can use to support ourselves that seem, it right sizes them. Because a lot of times, when I’m in that mode and I’m being shaken around by turbulence, I want to ignore whatever my needs are to just to try to get through it. This is a reminder that one of the most necessary components is paying attention to your needs to right size your support to get you at the speed you need to be, which is often slowing down as you said beautifully, to get through those really rough patches. That’s important because putting those aside, waiting to do the meditation, the self-compassion, the self-care, the health, the things that we know support our wellbeing overall, until “it stops being bumpy” is actually the opposite of what we need to be doing, if I’m hearing you right.

Wendy: Yes, and actually, it’s lifesaving. Meaning, if you want to survive this, you really do have to get to that maneuvering speed. You’re not going to be able to help any of your passengers or anybody else if your strap falls off, because it’s so turbulent, right? It’s absolutely necessary for the continuation of flight that you do pull back the throttle, and get to the maneuvering speed that will allow you to ride it out, and then you can accelerate afterwards. It probably seems really obvious, but having a new way to think about it in a physical way, you know, it helps to drive the point home, I think.

Jill: Yeah, I love that. One of the other things is, putting ourselves, I would say back in the driver’s seat, but I think you would say back in the position to be pilot in command versus autopilot.

Wendy: Right.

Jill: What is important about that and why is that something that we need to be thinking about as well? 

Wendy: Well, from what you told me about so many physicians is it there’s this– It can be easy to just follow a path and maybe not feel that you’re in charge of it or you’re getting to determine the route that you’d like to take. There’re a million different ways to get from San Diego to Atlanta. Would you like to go, how fast would you like, or slow, what would you like to see, and when would you like to stop? And it’s not always the most direct that makes the most sense, there may be complicated airspace and there may be weather, whatever. In a two-pilot operation, which is what I fly in, there’s the pilot in command and they’re one, they’re ultimately responsible for the safety and security of that flight. And that means checking all the weather and pre-flighting the plane and all that. And then there’s a pilot monitoring or a second in command. 

To take a pilot in command mentality, we take that really seriously. It’s a three way switch off. If I’m flying and I want this person next to me, the second in command to take controls, I say, “Your controls”, they say, “My controls”, and I say it a third time, because that’s how serious it is to be the one that’s ultimately responsible for everything that’s happening. I only recently done two-pilot operations so that’s kind of new for me. The switching off of power and responsibility and that again, just a great reminder for all of us that we can sometimes let someone else be pilot in command. We don’t have to do it by ourselves all the time. And other times, I really know where I want to go and how fast or slow, what route I want to take, I am assuming pilot and command responsibilities. 

Jill: And that I think fits so well to research that is very clear, which is when we are exercising more agency – and that doesn’t mean responsibility or burdens, but it means more decisions for where we want to go in our lives. When we exercise more agency, it helps make the work we’re doing more sustainable, it helps decrease the likelihood of burnout. And so, I love that. I think what happens a lot of times is physicians will decide if they just work hard enough and just overwork in a lot of situations, then somebody else who’s in charge [chuckles] will see that they’re working too hard and change the circumstances, so that it’s more equitable. And that very, very, very seldom happens. Because what often happens is leadership structures say,”That person is willing to work harder than everybody else for the same amount of money and they don’t complain. So, therefore, I will just have them keep doing more things.” 

And so, the system gets to the point where people feel really overwhelmed, tired, resentful, jaded, and then they want to leave. And so, that’s trying to get people to think more about being that pilot in control and being clear that it’s okay to say, “I need somebody else to support me here” is I think important, powerful, and that’s what keeps you in this highly challenging, highly rewarding, amazing career, I think for the long haul.

Wendy: Yeah, and we call it Crew Resource Management, because it’s such a big deal. There’re so many hazards and I would think for physicians also. It’s very serious. What we’re doing here could be very serious. And so, if I am not feeling comfortable being a pilot in command, I need to communicate that if I need help for a second, but also knowing that, like you said, autonomy or agency, can choose to be pilot in command when you feel. We have an ‘I’m safe’ checklist. You’re not going to be pilot in command unless you have checked all these things, that you really have the resources and the resiliency to be pilot in command. If you’re not, then you don’t go flying. And everybody respects that because fatigue and all that is a very big deal. 

I also like the idea that two pilots could plan a trip someplace and pick totally different flight plans. One pilot might want to fly at high altitude to save fuel and another pilot might want to fly low to the ground and see more things. And so, you can choose based on what you value or, what your preferences are, what your routing is. We would both choose completely different routes if we were to start in the city and end in the city. And that’s what’s interesting about it, too.

Jill: Right. Because that’s part of the agency is making those choices and giving yourself permission to make those choices. Speaking of flight plans, you have created a flight plan for all of us whether or not we will ever fly an airplane. I think will ride in an airplane, but most of us will not fly an airplane. But I love it because you invite us to create– When we’re thinking about those possible routes to essentially write one through 25, what are the things that we would say, “It would be great if,” not the route based purely on the most practical, but what would be great and, “It would be great if”, and you invite us to write down 25 things that should be part of what we’re thinking about when we’re putting together a flight plan.

Wendy: 25, because I want you to push beyond where you would normally stop. And then I know a little bit about creative problem solving. And so, the way this is languaged is supposed to help you think more creatively and the way the words in the questions are designed to upshift your thinking to the more creative part of your brain. ‘It would be great if is’ a list of possible routes. It could be anything like lose 10 pounds, or sleep more, or travel more. And just list 25 things, at least 25 things. You go beyond where you would normally start. So, those were all the possible routes as the first step. And then I ask people to look at, over those routes and just see if there are two or three that really jumped out at them that are in neon or giving you a little wink like, “Yes, me. Pick me.”[laughs] 

Jill: Right. 

Wendy: And then I want people to pick one of those things and then it’s like put it in the middle of a piece of paper. “It would be great if I lost 10 pounds”, and then what are all the reasons why, why, why, why, why else? That actually ends up being your fuel, the reason you want that thing. And sometimes, you might notice there’s some clarification needed. So, I want to lose 10 pounds. It might really come down to one of my why’s might show me that I really just want to feel more confident. That’s really what I want to work on. It’s not really the 10 pounds. 

So, the whys help clarify that’s your fuel and then that’s your clarified statement and your whys, and then below that, what’s stopping you. So, that’s the drag. That’s what’s impacting your thrust and your lift. So, those are what’s stopping you, those are the challenges, and then often we use creative problem solving to address each of those challenges. That actually becomes the plan, the flight plan.

Jill: Wow, it’s just so helpful. I love that process, because it’s so easy to say, “Oh, I wish I could be XYZ”, or, :I wish this wasn’t happening”, and saying, “Wouldn’t it be great if?” and then challenging yourself to distill down, what’s the most thing that it would be great if. Why do you want it, what’s the motivation behind it and then what could be keeping you from doing that? And then you actually wrote, you have a flight plan, you have a map that begins to get out of the, “I wish things were different”, into, “Here’s what I do as the pilot in command of my own life to take myself in the direction to not only make things different, but make them better and to create more of the life that I want to live and want to thrive in.”

Wendy: Yes. I love taking it from conceptual to practical. I need to know what I’m going to do tomorrow. That’s why, solving for each of those challenges, and again, using some creative problem-solving language such as. “How might I x, what are the ways I might x?” And the word ‘might’ is the one that helps open up our creativity. When you’re looking at those challenges or the drag in problem solving for each of those, that’s how you begin to build the actual flight plan that becomes the working document that you can take action on. It’s also great to get other people to do some creative problem solving with you because they don’t have the same blinders you do. So, how might you lose 10 pounds, whatever it is?

Jill: Which is why coaching is such an impactful thing is that, you do get to get the insights and the information as you talked about the copilot, who’s doing some really important work of seeing things that you aren’t supposed to be in charge of while you’re the pilot in command. I think that trusted thinking partner of getting coaching, this is one highly effective way of making that happen and I just love it. I hope it’s getting all of you thinking a little bit differently about putting yourself back into where you want to be in directing your own flight plan, how you want to be that pilot in command. What else do you want our listeners to think about, Wendy, before we let them go, when it comes to this idea of thinking about their life from a pilot’s perspective, if you would?

Wendy: Just getting to know your own compass. Your compass readings might feel different than mine, what interferes with your compass might be different than mine. We’ve listed a few things that might cause interference. But just thinking about how has your intuition spoken to you in the past? How do you know it’s your intuition, how do you know something feels right? How does your compass work? What interferes with your compass so you know when to make some adjustments? Just encouraging people even when they’re in that discomfort to probably hold off making some big decisions until you’ve righted your compass, because you don’t want to be making decisions with all of those errors and interference. 

I had already decided I wanted to pursue a new career in aviation. Then when I got cancer, I was so pissed like, “This is slowing me down.” [laughs] And everybody in my life thought, “Oh, you got cancer. Then you decide to go do something else.” I was like, “No, no.” My ego was really, really upset with all that because I’ve had those coaching tools. I mean, it really was. Because I’ve been using coaching tools and been coached so many times over the years. I still get coached to make sure that I could make the right decision. So, meaning, I went to a flight school that treated me horribly and I felt I had to suck it up and just keep going. At one point, it got so miserable that I was crying in the car on the way home. It’s like noticing where I’m pushing myself into places that aren’t good for me because I think it’s a good idea.

Really using this life changing event of cancer as a fuel. Not that so much that life is precious, but I just don’t want anything slowing me down anymore. And so, it really did help motivate me. But I think I still even at 53 was still willing to put up with crappy situations to get somewhere, even though the fuel felt bad. It was like the wrong fuel, it was fear-based fuel, and it smelled bad, it felt bad, and I overrode all of that like, “I can do anything for six months.” It’s like, “Oh, geez, no, I’m going to get cancer.” Then it’s like, “No, six months, no, we’re not doing this for six months. Not even six days.” Still learning a lot of that stuff, where I’m so tempted to be driven and pushed through to get the results and I had to admit that it was too emotionally, spiritually, physically expensive to keep pushing like that. 

The job that I have now, I never would have known about if I hadn’t taken the routes I took and then said, “Okay, we’re going to abort, abort, abort. We’re going to divert to a different airport and discover employment that I didn’t even know existed.” It’s really tough to trust that in those times. But again, I was just suffering and pushing and it was not sustainable. And so, that’s where as pilot in command, I said, “Okay, we’re going to divert to a safer airport.”

Jill: I love that. Thank you so much. This has really given us a lot of fuel for thought and just some ways, I think, that can help our brains take on a new paradigm for thinking about how we can get some agency back in our lives, think more clearly about what matters to us, and where we want those destinations to be. It was really, just, I loved it. I loved the piece I saw you write, and I love this conversation around it even more. So, thank you, Wendy, so much for being with us today. 

Wendy: My pleasure. Thank you, Jill. 

Jill: If somebody wants to get a hold of you or learn more about the work that you do in the world, where’s the best place for them to find you?

Wendy: Oh, my website damnthirsty.com. D-A-M-N thirsty dotcom.

Jill: Thank you so much, Wendy Kranz. It was great having you here. And thanks to all of you for listening. Remember, right now, hop on over to docworking.com and take the burnout quiz. It’s going to be really helpful, and insightful, in helping you to move from burnout to more balance in your life. Until next time, I’m Jill Farmer on DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast.

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Jen: At DocWorking, we’re here to help you maximize your potential on your own terms and help you live your best life. You told us what you need and want, and we built this for you. Whatever your journey is, you have options, you can choose to live the life you want to live. We see you, we get you, and now, let’s get you in the driver’s seat of your own life, so you can find purpose in your work, and everything you do, and every choice you make. 

Top executives, athletes, actors, all achieve greatness with the support of professional coaches. As a healthcare professional, you deserve ongoing coaching support toward achieving your career goals and living your best life as you define it on your own terms. We have created this specifically for you with CME credit at docworking.com. Please go to docworking.com and check out our quick balance to burnout quiz to see where you are on the balance to burnout continuum right now. The results might surprise you. Taking this simple first step may change your life for the better. And until next time, thank you for listening to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast.

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